The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament has accused the office of Speaker of the National Assemblyof misallocation of funds for the various committees of Parliament.
Yesterday, PAC cancelled at the eleventh hour a press briefing scheduled at Parliament building where the committee reportedly planned to make public its frustrations with Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya, whom they were scheduled to met on Friday.
According to sources within the committee, cancellation of the press briefing followed a late intervention from leadership of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), whose sizeable parliamentary majority gives it an edge in the committee.
Msowoya is also MCP deputy president, and some PAC members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the planned actions of the committee could have had a negative reflection on the party’s leadership.
Sources added that the decision to voice out its frustrations followed a series of unfruitful meetings PAC had with the Speaker and Clerk of Parliament (CoP) Fiona Kalemba over slashing down of funding to various committees of Parliament.
According to a PAC member who opted for anonymity for fear of reprisals, all committee members including MCP lawmakers, are unhappy that the speaker wants the committee to only transact business for two weeks instead of the normal six weeks.
“We have been informed by Treasury that the funding is coming as normal. The CoP also confirmed that the funding for committees came as normal, but the Speaker single-handedly decided to cut the funding to committees. Instead, he has prioritised his foreign trips, making trans-Atlantic flights while the committee work suffers,” said the lawmaker, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Another committee member said during the two weeks allocated by the office of Speaker, PAC was expected to scrutinise 35 audit reports from 2008 to 2010.
“If we are still struggling to deal with such old cases, will we ever deal with current reports? In the end, the public will be saying we are not carrying out our mandate,” said the parliamentarian.
In an interview yesterday, PAC chairperson Alekeni Menyani confirmed having meetings with the Speaker and the CoP, and the issues discussed, but denied sentiments that the meetings were held in tense environment.
“We summoned the CoP and she also explained that the matter was because of Parliament prioritisation and that was why we invited the Speaker so that he explains himself. We feel he is not committed to committee work by not prioritising it,” said Menyani.
He said despite meeting the Speaker, PAC is not satisfied with explanations given, but he described the matter as an on-going dialogue.
“We are not satisfied with his interventions. It is an open matter and there will be two more meetings; issues of oversight are central to our work,” added Menyani.
He said the office of the Auditor General draws meetings for scrutiny of reports and said the committee’s frustrations extend to that office, which feels the resources are equally inadequate.
But speaking in a separate interview, Msowoya defended his stance and dismissed allegations of prioritisation of his office as unfounded.
He described the meetings with PAC as normal and cordial; comparing them to Cabinet meetings.
“PAC sits like any other committee and it was allocated time like any other committee. It is not a disagreement but a matter of finding additional money. I also agree that they need more money for their work.
“It’s not true that I am prioritising my trips, I am one of the Speakers who have travelled the least. For example, during my last trip to Zambia I had to travel by road. I don’t like travelling, you can check with the CoP, and it’s not good to advance such politics,” said Msowoya.
The development comes as PAC has been scruitinising audit reports for various district councils, some dating as back as 2008. The committee was also expected to scrutinise the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) data analysis report that exposed that about K577 billion of public funds could not be accounted for between January 1 2009 and December 31 2014.
A source from Parliament said meetings of committees have been rescheduled from six weeks twice a year to two weeks four times a year. n